A Letter To My Sister(s): Don’t Let White Suburbia Strip Away Your Femininity

My little sister is in 9th grade, just starting high school, and it’s homecoming season. Originally, she said, uncharacteristically, that she was going to skip it and go to an indoor water park with her friend. Today she calls me and says that she is shopping for homecoming dresses but still doesn’t know if she wants to go or not because all her friends are going but they’re all getting asked and she knows she won’t be.

In that moment, not only was I transported back to my own insecure freshman year, but I also felt the immediate call to action. I was not going to let me sister deal with the common plight of the black woman in dating life so soon.

Even though she didn’t explicitly say it, anyone could tell my sister was a little bit upset about the fact that nobody would want to ask her to homecoming. My sister annoys me from time to time but I admire her personality and liveliness so much that it hurts to see something as inconsequential as a homecoming dance bring her down. She’s already getting the taste of having to watch all of her friends get the attention of high school boys while she’s seemingly left behind. Having to go to school in a community that implicitly and immediately ranks you as a less attractive woman for your skin color alone is something no young girl growing up should have to go through, yet it happens everywhere, all the time. She even tries to hide her incredibly defined arm muscles because she doesn’t want to “look too strong”.

From personal experience, it’s infuriating to know that so many people exclude black women from their dating pool based on “preference” (a.k.a thinly veiled and coded racism). Black women are incredibly hypermasculinized as they are stripped of their femininity and perceived as aggressive, loud, and/or “ratchet”. Our facial and body features are either viewed as ugly and undesirable or entirely hypersexualized (black booty ring a bell?). I’ve written and researched extensively on the fetishism of POC women, but black women, especially the dark-skinned black woman, are counter-fetishized like no other, and boy are we aware of it. The internal shame you feel when you start to like a guy but then take it back because you know there’s no way that he likes dark-skinned black girls is a hallmark of our lives. These beliefs are ridiculous but they’re instilled at such a young age for girls like my sister and I who grow up around girls who look nothing like ourselves. Both my sister and I deeply regret chemically relaxing our hair in order to have hair that was more “normal”, only for our hair to be damaged and fall out soon after, but what I regret most about it is that I stripped away a part of my own black natural beauty, solely in order to fit the white mold that would always cast me out. (Note — there’s nothing wrong with relaxing your hair if it’s your choice)

And the worst part is, that even when you recognize the problem, there’s so few people around you that can empathize or sympathize, that you just have to quietly accept it as part of your life and hope that one day you’ll find your “white savior” (or any race of man because even black men are incredibly guilty of “defeminizing” and dismissing black women) who actually give us a chance, praying they don’t have some fetish or something. Additionally, talking about this issue with non-black women, to me, has always felt like I’m coming across as bitter that I’m not getting the boys’ attention that I “so richly desire” (*insert eye-roll*), but deep down inside, we all know the issue is so much deeper than the individual. I’m so exhausted of this standard being so common and so hotly defended, and I’m so done living in a world where I have to constantly fight for and prove my own femininity by dismissing my black identity.

Back to my little sister, I want her to know that she is beautiful and that no guy in her white, rich, conservative suburb can make her feel otherwise. I want her to know that she does not have to settle for whatever slimeball-leftover-boy her friends try to set her up with so they don’t feel guilty about her going alone. I want her to have the confidence to flirt with guys and ask them out and not immediately think of rejection before she even tries. And I’d like to think that the buck stops in white suburbia, but it exists even far outside its reach, as I can tell living in one of the most liberal states in this here union. I know it’s going to be a tough road for her because I lived it, but she deserves an adolescence that’s defined by her embracing her own femininity and feeling confident, empowered, and beautiful, as ALL black women are and deserve to feel.


Note: this is definitely from a heteronormative perspective, and I apologize but my point is less about the man/female relationship and more about the self-worth of Black women.

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I Just Can’t Win: A Diatribe on Misplaced Guilt Over College Acceptances

Holy shiitake mushrooms.

So the past week (or weeks….or months, sorry for the hiatus in writing) has been dramatic and stressful and all around crazy and exhausting, and I’ve felt as if everything is just barrelling down this hill and I’ll get flattened before I even make it to graduation. But in this long, arduous journey that is the second semester of my senior year of high school, I received a rare piece of good news in what seemed like several weeks of disappointments.

I got into Columbia AND Duke.

I was super excited at first. Like, SUPER excited. Like, I wanted to scream it to the world. But, the night after I found out up until only a day or two ago, I’ve felt sick about it. I felt (and still feel) like I personally didn’t deserve to get into either of those schools. I didn’t feel like I did as much as my peers or that my other peers were more qualified or smarter on paper than I could ever be.

I can’t accurately assess what part of my application was so noteworthy that Columbia or Duke would accept me (and let me know early), and as much as I want to talk about it, every time I do, a bitter taste of arrogance, guilt, and shame lingers in my throat. I don’t want to brag, but I keep racking my brain as to all the things I could have possibly done (and in my opinion, it’s not much), and I re-read my essays (which, in my opinion, are pretty mediocre) and I go over my application over and over again and I can’t figure it out. It’s even more troubling for me because both Duke and Columbia I did at the very last minute possible. I didn’t even proofread my Columbia writing supplement, and it took me approximately 40 minutes to write (I pasted it below, in case you thought I was kidding, I really didn’t proofread the thing). I’m not proud of that fact, in fact, I worry I will get rejected from colleges I actually spent time working on applications for, and I can’t even share this sentiment, because my options are two great schools, that I’m only moderately enthused about. As much as I want to discuss it with my friends and family, I feel as if they’ll be annoyed with me and think I’m looking for an ego boost.

I don’t love the predicament I’m in. I admit to being paranoid, imagining and assuming more people don’t like me than do, even among my own friends. I worry that people think I’m dumb and can’t think for myself, and that feeling often acts as an inappropriate motivation for me. I don’t seek superiority, nor do I feel inferior to any specific person (this is shade btw towards a specific individual who won’t even see this), but rather I seek to be seen as an intellectual equal, or at least just competent, yet, no matter how much reassurance I receive, I still sense that people think I’m inadequate everywhere around me. It’s these reasons why I want to leave high school so badly. I want to start anew with a group of people who may perhaps treat me like their equal, and we can all learn from each other.

But for now, despite feeling blessed for the opportunities set forth for me, I’m stuck in high school in suburbia, where getting into Ivy League schools and their near-peers still aren’t enough to prove that maybe, just maybe, there’s a brain under this short little afro of mine.

From your least favorite potential Lion/Blue Devil who unfortunately looks terrible in blue,

O.A.


And the promised mediocre writing supplement, because at some point, I’m going to have to learn to make fun of myself and not be bothered.

What aspect of the Columbia community, outside of the classroom, would you most want to impact and why? (150 words or less)
It is already well established that Columbia and the city of New York is a cultural melting pot. As a girl living in the suburbs, I desperately want to meet, learn from, and debate with people whose views and experiences are outside of my own, however, I not only feel just out of reach of all the rich and disparate cultural influences a city has to offer, but I’m also subject to homogeneity of political opinions and lack of enthusiasm for any form of activism. Columbia has dozens of varied political and activist organizations ranging across a wide spectra of platforms that allow me to share my own voice and expand my own intellectual horizons as I learn from those who can introduce me to new topics of contention and attempt to understand those who disagree or challenge my beliefs, all opportunities difficult to take on in secluded suburbia.

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year.
Oedipus Rex and Antigone by Sophocles; The Republic by Plato; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka; Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller; A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess; The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde;
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, Electra, Women of Trachis, and Philoctetes by Sophocles; The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde; A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin; Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray; Persuasion by Jane Austen; Neverwhere and Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman; And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards; The Oresteia by Aeschylus

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly.
Farnam Street Blog, Makezine, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Following Hadrian, TIME Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Twitter, Popular Science, Discover Magazine, The New Yorker, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Quora, The Brookings Institution, Teen Vogue, NPR Online

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.
Matilda the Musical; The Nutcracker; The Formation World Tour – Beyonce;
The Dickson Prize Lecture / Science 2016 Game-Changers Conference; Pittsburgh Speaker Series at Heinz Hall – Dave Barry and Panel Discussion: Racism in America; Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Literary Evening Series – Daniel James Brown;
Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads, Building Optimism: Public Space in South America, and 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic, at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History; The Revenant, Deadpool, Hail Caesar, Eddie the Eagle, Kubo and the Two Strings, Me Before You, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Edge of Seventeen, Doctor Strange, Moana, Star Wars: Rogue One, Finding Dory, and Fences

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)
This world isn’t static. As time progresses, our world becomes increasingly more dynamic and complex, accompanied by the problems that plague it. Time has proven to us that the leaders of tomorrow can’t simply be engaged in one single discipline to make effective, sustainable, and responsible decisions. In a time where even the most reputable news sources and public figures fall prey to aggrandized claims, “fake news”, and sentiments of intolerance, a well-rounded education and an open-minded and culturally diverse environment can equip students with the necessary tools to fight ignorance and sensationalism as we enter adulthood. Columbia College’s Core Curriculum ensures that all students are well-prepared for the challenges of the future as they’re exposed to disciplines outside of their concentration. Exposure to this type of curriculum and educational philosophy teaches and enables students to approach problems with understanding and tact rather than react irresponsibly out of fear or abandon their efforts entirely, both reactions that can jeopardize critical situations in need of delicate solutions. Additionally, Columbia’s location in New York City is an environment where students are bound to come across varied cultural and political perspectives and backgrounds and ultimately learn to become more tolerant and understanding individuals. Coupling Columbia’s unique curriculum with its urban location, also home to countless research and internship opportunities, the university is a unique haven for students who are looking for more than just a strictly educational experience in their intended major, but also an intellectual transformation.
As the students of today begin to enter the public spotlight, it is our civic duty and responsibility to envision and promote a more tolerant, respectful, and advanced vision for the world. Not only does Columbia prepare us to take on that challenge, but these values already are already embraced at the core of the university.

For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time.
I’m lucky to consider myself an acolyte of both the ancient and modern world. And while my interests don’t necessarily cross paths, they have been instrumental in my own intellectual and personal development as well as a foundation for my future educational endeavors.
Nearly everything in our modern society has some connection to the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. Studying “dead languages” became one of the liveliest parts of my high school career as my grasp of the English language improved through learning how it derived from the words and grammar constructions of both ancient
Greek and classical Latin. Beyond the language, understanding how the ancient civilizations provided the foundation of our own modern democracy and republic allows us to critically examine our own government and laws and become more responsible private citizens and voters.
Although I enthuse about the Greeks and Romans, my career interests primarily involve biology and computer science. For me, studying biology fuels my innate sense of curiosity, for learning more about the behaviors of the cell is like switching between objective lenses and viewing a specimen in even greater detail. Yet, my enthusiasm for biology is often juxtaposed against my aptitude for computer science, where, as I learned how to code, I realized my own propensity for approaching problems systematically and efficiently and comprehending most subjects in terms of boolean operators and conditional statements. My interest in both biology and computer science was, however, refined and conjoined as a result of a research experience I had through the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Creating rule-based computational models of my particular cell signaling pathway while also performing immunofluorescence experiments in the lab enlightened me as to how I could combine my interests and pursue a career in research and medicine in the future.